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Jul 13 2012

Ohio Supreme Court to Hear Freshwater Appeal

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal on behalf of John Freshwater, the loony science teacher who burned a cross into a student’s arm and has a long history of abusing his position to proselytize for Christianity. The Columbus Dispatch reports:

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear an appeal filed by a Mount Vernon teacher fired for teaching creationism and religious doctrine in his middle-school science classroom.

The 4-3 decision allows for oral arguments before the court later this year.

John Freshwater says that his rights to free speech and academic freedom were violated when he was fired by the Mount Vernon school board in January 2011 following allegations that he failed to remove religious materials from his classroom and burned crosses on students’ arms during science experiments.

The court ruled that Freshwater can argue his case on two points: Whether it is unconstitutional to fire a teacher without giving him a clear indication of which materials or teaching methods are acceptable; and whether expressing one’s personal religious beliefs are grounds for dismissal.

Hmmm. So they said he can argue those two points, but those were only very minor factors involved in his firing. The fact that he improperly used a piece of equipment and burned the skin of students alone justifies the firing, but when you add in all of the other things he did that were clearly designed to push his religious views on students, this is a no-brainer. That guy shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a public school classroom.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Rip Steakface

    Academic freedom? He’s a middle school teacher. He’s not a university professor, or even a community college adjunct.

  2. 2
    dogmeat

    Whether it is unconstitutional to fire a teacher without giving him a clear indication of which materials or teaching methods are acceptable

    This was, in my professional opinion, the only legitimate argument that Freshwater ever had. I might have missed something along the way, but from what I’ve read while following the case, the overall administrative team botched this quite badly. To be fair, again, from what I’ve read, it was more of a situation where a like minded administrator looked the other way and allowed him to violate the rights of his students for years, followed by a more professional administrative team who handled his situation more appropriately once they became aware of it, but overall, the district appears to have failed in their responsibility to monitor the actions of Freshwater and notify him of his improper activities.

    Of course none of this has anything to do with his actions that directly injured students or his defiance once his activities became known.

  3. 3
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    He needs clear indication? Everything else aside, he doesn’t know why he was fired after burning a student’s arm?

  4. 4
    plutosdad

    Hey, the school did not have a defined policy saying you cannot brand students. So how was he supposed to know?

    When Costanza said “I have to plead ignorance on this one” regarding sex in the office after hours, he knew it was a lie. But these people are worse than even Costanza’s character, one of the most selfish and narcissistic liars on tv.

  5. 5
    Steve the Drunk Unicyclist

    The fact that he improperly used a piece of equipment and burned the skin of students alone justifies the firing…

    Unfortunately, the cross-burning incident was dropped from the termination ruling, so can’t be used.

  6. 6
    baal

    I don’t see good in taking the appeal. The fact that it’s 4/3 to hear it suggests to me that the xtians will look to either put him back in the class room as a message that creationism is a good thing or to not let him back in but to foreclose any firing of a teacher that includes teaching of creationism. The other side (fire the guy!) already ‘won’ and take a risk by hearing the appeal.

    I’m probably over reading but don’t like where this may go.

  7. 7
    interrobang

    What I still don’t understand is why he’s not facing criminal charges, like for assault. Why did what is to my mind the most serious part of Freshwater’s misconduct just sort of fade into the background? Yeah, he’s a creationist dimwit who shouldn’t be teaching, but he’s also a creationist dimwit who doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with branding students with a dangerous piece of equipment. Since he’s a middle school teacher, none of his students would be old enough to legally consent, either.

    I’m in my late 30s and from Canada (different country, different times — before the advent of “zero-tolerance” policies), and I can remember teachers being basically summarily fired from my actual high school (where some of the older students would be legal adults) for less. Specifically, an incident where a teacher threw an overhead projector at a student who was on the other side of a classroom doorway. The student closed the door quickly, the overhead projector hit the door, smashed, and fell to the floor. No one was hurt, even though there was glass flying around…but the teacher was still dismissed. (I know of this incident because I was there and saw it happen.)

  8. 8
    gshelley

    The fact that he improperly used a piece of equipment and burned the skin of students alone justifies the firing,

    That was not the reason for firing though
    ncse.com/webfm_send/1545
    (PDF)
    States that he stopped using it after being told not to do it again and that the referee considers the incident dealt with by the administration

  9. 9
    dogmeat

    Hey, the school did not have a defined policy saying you cannot brand students. So how was he supposed to know?

    It is actually his other activities that led to the termination. The question with those is whether or not he was aware that he couldn’t use his state funded classroom & position to promote his religious beliefs. Of course the logic of this is questionable at best, but it plays into the law regarding the obligations of administration to inform their employees of pending grounds for termination and remediation/opportunities to correct those deficiencies.

    It differs from state to state, but a tenured/continuing teacher has some level of legal protection when it comes to their jobs. These protections are actually quite good for a number of reasons, protecting good teachers who teach controversial subjects is a big one. It also allows school districts to pay teachers less, means they get to retain better teachers, etc. The down side is that it can be abused (like this situation). Another problem is related to proper documentation of behavior. In Freshwater’s case, this lack of administrative documentation is what gives Freshwater any chance at all. That’s what I meant by my earlier comment. The administrator who looked the other way while Freshwater was preaching to his students set the stage for further problems. When the new administrative team came in, they were unaware of his activities and weren’t able to respond until they became aware. This gives Freshwater the foundation of his argument.

    Fortunately for the school, and unfortunately for Freshwater, his own actions heavily undercut his own arguments. First, the fact that he took elaborate steps to hide the creationist materials from administration, parents, etc., cripple his claim that he didn’t know what he was doing was a violation of policy, state, and federal law. The additional fact that he was defiant in his intention to continue to use his classroom as his own personal church reinforces the administrative argument and cripples his “good faith” claim. I believe this latter part is why he and his supporters constantly make the false “he only wanted to keep his bible” argument. Of course it’s willful ignorance or intentionally misleading to claim that this was the issue (rather than the handouts, his videos, his instruction, his posters, his activities with clubs, and on, and on…)

    I don’t think his arguments will work with the court, remember it was only 4-3 to hear the case. He has been shot down multiple times, I find it unlikely that the court will find in his favor. The problem is that this continues to increase the already high legal expenses for the district.

  10. 10
    raven

    The kid’s family did sue the school and the insurance company paid them off.

    They also had to move out of the district due to threats from fundie xians.

    It’s been estimated that Freshwater has cost his former employer something like a million USD.

  11. 11
    rbh3

    Dogmeat wrote

    “Whether it is unconstitutional to fire a teacher without giving him a clear indication of which materials or teaching methods are acceptable”

    This was, in my professional opinion, the only legitimate argument that Freshwater ever had. I might have missed something along the way, but from what I’ve read while following the case, the overall administrative team botched this quite badly.

    But he was given multiple indications. In 2003 both the science curriculum committee and the Board of Education rejected Freshwater’s proposal (supported by materials from Jonathan Wells) to teach adopt the Intelligent Design Network’s Objective Origins Science Policy, which is essentially an abandonment of methodological naturalism in science. Later a senior administrator testified

    Subsequently there was a meeting with Freshwater, Maley, Cunningham, Adkins, and Weston in which Freshwater was issued firm instructions to cease. Later in cross examination she was more specific, after having Maley’s letter to Freshwater following the meeting offered in evidence. She said that Freshwater was instructed not to teach ID (e.g., the handouts); was questioned about the source(s) and couldn’t provide any and was told not to use unsourced material; the Board’s 2003 decision of Freshwater’s proposal was reiterated; and Freshwater was instructed that he should stick to the curriculum and standards. This was the letter to which Freshwater responded with a letter and lesson plan in which the terms “irreducible complexity,” “specified complexity,” and “peppered moths” were used (see here).

    Weston testified that Freshwater was unwilling to talk with other science teachers about science “because he was so set in his conception of science.” She testified that the District offered a voluntary professional development workshop for teachers in the fall of 2003, after Freshwater’s proposal was rejected by the Board of Education, but Freshwater didn’t attend it. (I don’t know if Lori Miller attended it.)

    He had plenty of guidance.

  12. 12
    dogmeat

    He had plenty of guidance.

    rbh3,

    I’m referring to his in-class activities and his direct administrative supervisors (prior to those who actually did begin the termination action). I agree he was provided with ample guidance regarding what was acceptable curriculum, etc., what I’m referring to is the failure of his site administration to, upon observing him utilizing unsourced material, implement written observation of those failings and establishing an improvement plan. Again, I’m not saying that this is a defense because I agree from his actions and communications that I’ve read regarding the case that he was quite aware that what he was doing was counter to established board policies, state law, and federal law.

    Again, I’m not saying that it is a legitimate argument, only that it is his best argument (a bad one amongst many truly horrible arguments).

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